At Munich Airport, customs officers are also animal rescuers - just like their colleagues at countless other airports around the world: An alligator freed from the luggage of a traveler by officials has been nursed back to health by animal keepers. A passenger attempted to smuggle the live albino alligator through airport security on September 25.
As reported by Munich's main customs office, security check employees discovered the alligator when X-raying suitcases. "They immediately informed the customs officers who, when opening the suitcase, found a living white alligator wrapped in cling film," said customs spokesman Thomas Meister on Thursday.
Together with a veterinarian, the customs officers would have freed the animal and taken over the first aid for the alligator.
The approximately one meter long crocodile was initially in poor health. It was then nursed back to health in a sanctuary for reptiles. "Now the animal is fine again," said Master.
Customs has only now published the September discovery so as not to jeopardize the interim investigations into the background to the smuggling. A 42-year-old businessman is said to have taken the animal in his luggage.
According to customs, the investigators demanded a high five-digit security payment from him and confiscated the man's mobile phone. After that he was allowed to travel on to Singapore. The 42-year-old made a stopover in Munich.
According to customs authorities and animal rights activists, animal smuggling is a very big problem worldwide. Hundreds of animals are discovered every quarter at airports in Germany and Austria alone, as reports from the authorities and press reports show.
Everything that brings in money is smuggled - to be sold alive as pets or to end up as a "delicacy", such as strictly protected pangolins, which have been repeatedly seized at German airports in recent years, either already skinned or fried.
There's probably little animal suffering that customs officers haven't encountered, including elephants' feet being cut off or a tiger cub being carried in luggage and drugged. Customs officers keep freeing chameleons and parrots. In January, for example, officials at Düsseldorf Airport found 93 giant snails that were probably intended to end up as a meal. The animals were discovered by the slime trail of one specimen on a luggage trolley packed in other pieces of luggage.
Many protected animals sometimes bring in five-digit sums alive. Animal rights activists criticize the unscrupulous trade endangering the existence of entire species.
The smuggling went well for the small alligator, as recent photos of the white reptile show. At a press event on Thursday, he apparently sat quite relaxed on the hands of a nurse and had himself photographed.
Sources: dpa, Zoll.de, Federal Ministry of Finance in Austria, "Nordschleswiger.dk", "Rheinische Post"